Ex-convict given a second chance
Danny Amos was born into a family of bank robbers. “Everybody on my dad’s side of the family were all criminals,” the 65-year-old recalls. “My dad robbed several banks—him and some of his family. I was my dad’s number one. He kept me with him all the time.”
When Danny Amos was 10 years old and his father was in prison, his mother gave him up to the state. She had seven other children, and Danny fought with her boyfriend. She was fed up with Danny, so she decided to let the government raise him instead.
A year after Danny’s mother abandoned him, police arrested him for stealing. The juvenile court system judged him to be incorrigible, which gave the prison guards room to treat him however they saw fit.
“They would have me bend straight over and put my head between their legs,” Danny remembers. “They’d pour water on my back and take the palms of their hands from way up high and come down. They’d leave a print on my back.”
During his time in the juvenile system, Danny was often placed in solitary confinement. For 90 days at a time, he received small amounts of food and had little light.
“They would put me in solitary for anything they wanted to.” His sharp features grow sharper as he recounts the events. “It made me hard, and it made me [have] two personalities. I had that monster in me, and then I had the good in me.”
Struggle to Survive
Danny was released from the juvenile system when he was 15 and immediately dove back into a life of crime. “I knew from experiences with my family that robbing was a way of getting finances, and it was so easy.”
He met a girl and got married when he was 17, which led him to steal more because he needed to take care of her. In 1970, when he was 19, Danny was arrested. Not long after, his wife gave birth to their daughter.
At first, he had only a six-year sentence, but his wife kept pressuring him to come home and be with her and the baby. He tried to break out many times to be with them but was unsuccessful.
“I’ve got numerous attempts and escapes in my record over the years,” Danny notes. “However, I ended up with so much time I didn’t care anymore.” He added five more years to his sentence for every attempted escape.
Over the course of his imprisonment, Danny was placed in 34 different U.S. prisons. “When you become violent, they try to separate you from the people that you’re mixed up with by moving you around,” he says. In addition, he was punished with solitary confinement for 13 years at one time. “The chances of me making it [out] were zero to none.”
Danny called out to God: Old man, look. I’ve tried everything else. Help me find some good people. I don’t want to be around criminals no more. Let me make it out there.
Healing for Body and Mind
A few months later on May 27, 2015, Danny had served his sentence. He was free after 50 years in prison. Nichole Strom became his parole officer.
“[Ex-convicts] need somebody in their lives 24/7 who can help them learn how to make good choices and do things right,” says Nichole, who contacted several churches to find a mentor for Danny.
Jeff Naegelen, Nichole’s pastor at Alliance Church of the Valley (St. Croix Falls, Wis.), was the first to respond. When he approached a church member, Dana Frank, about the mentorship, Dana prayed and accepted. Nichole then asked Danny if he would meet Jeff, Dana, and her coworker Anna when he got out, and he agreed.
“I trusted her because everything she had said to me so far had been true,” Danny says. “She fought for me, and I’d never had nobody on the correction’s side fight for me. She’s my angel, my bodyguard.”
The five met at Nichole’s office after Danny was released to ensure he and Dana were a good fit for a mentoring relationship. “I had a gut feeling that he was a good person, that he was straight up and wasn’t phony,” Danny says.
The group took Danny to Walmart with a $250 gift card from the church to purchase essentials such as clothes, a watch, and a phone. They didn’t know his sizes because he had worn a prison uniform for most of his life.
Danny had multiple health problems when he was released. Not only was he fighting cancer, but he also was struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) from the violent prison life. While he received treatment, he lived at Serenity Home, a shelter that reaches out to the homeless, including ex-cons who want a better life.
For the first several months, he was in the hospital three times a day and had many anxiety attacks. He awoke from dreams about prison, thinking that he was still there. The church community, however, helped him to get the treatments he needed.
After seven months, he was declared cancer-free.
Because of his incarceration, Danny had never learned to drive, cook, use a phone—or even a can opener. “I was like a newborn baby out here,” Danny recalls. “I was still going by the only thing I knew about: survival. And then I go to this new world out here, and it was nothing like it was when I was a kid. It was all like I was in a dream world.”
Dana taught Danny how to live again. “Everything that I experienced with Danny was like [teaching] a child,” Dana says.
Danny’s goals were simple too—“to stay out of jail and to get a Chihuahua and a truck.” Using everything that Dana taught him to do, Danny now partially supports himself as a handyman and has a driver’s license. He calls himself Handyman Dan and has purchased equipment that allows him to help the community.
For many months, Danny searched for a place to live on his own. A woman in the community, Dorene, rents a home to Danny with the intention of having him own it one day. “She gave me a place to rest my head when nobody else would rent to me,” Danny says.
Not only has the church family blessed Danny, but Danny also has been a helpful addition to the church. He is now an active member of Alliance Church of the Valley. He and Dana serve at church events together, cleaning dishes and doing other tasks. For Christmas Danny spent an entire month’s disability check on toys for the church’s kids.
Dana has sacrificed much to mentor Danny. He has lost many friends, including two who would not allow Danny to come to their wedding. Mentoring Danny has been a learning experience for Dana as well. “It’s brought a lot of reminders like, ‘We’ve all got pasts, and you don’t judge somebody by it,’” Dana says.
Danny now mentors others like himself, ex-cons who have no life direction. Any time he can, he helps these people, whether they’re male, female, or juveniles. His dream is to open a place like Serenity where ex-cons can get back on their feet and find purpose.
Danny has begun to witness to his sister as well. When she was going through a tough time, he told her to go in the bathroom, shut the door, and just talk to God like she would with anyone else.
Because of the outstretched hands of this church family, Danny has received Christ’s forgiveness. “Danny definitely knows he’s been forgiven,” Dana says. “I think he has turned it over to the Lord.”
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